Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Fair Lady: A Parable in Agile

In the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering remake a poor, cockney flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) into an upper-class lady, and prepare to present her at a grand ball.  If this sounds familiar to you, the movie My Fair Lady was based on this play.

As I watched the play, I realized that Higgins and Pickering are agilists.  They would strategize on their product (Doolittle) and then release her at small events leading up to the ball.  As she would enter to mingle with guests, Higgins and Pickering would just watch the interactions.  They would never interfere.  Sometimes they would want to applaud, sometimes cringe, but they would never guide, cover-up, or cajole.

Afterwards, they would discuss what they learned.  They always discovered blind spots.  What they thought would be problems, weren’t, and they uncovered problems they didn’t know they had.  They would polish the rough edges and try again.

After a lot of effort and time, release day came.  The ball was a smashing success.  Watching Higgins and Pickering celebrate their success reminded me of how successful software teams feel when their product goes live.  They are thrilled at success, but glad it’s over.

Higgins called the whole process a “joyful strain.”  

The play ends differently than the movie.  In the movie, it looks as though as Higgins and Doolittle discover a fondness for each other and might begin a romance.  In the play, Doolittle leaves to marry another man.  I think the play is better.  If Higgins is successful in his endeaver to create an independent, educated woman, then of course she would leave her creator and make her own way in the world.  She would stand on her own.   As a software developer, our products stand on their own.  We don’t get to dictate how they are used or why they are important to people.  Like Doolittle, they are free to live their own life.

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